Party like it’s 2013! State aid increase to be linked to evaluations

School aid funding will be tied to teacher evaluations after all, reports Capital New York. According to the report, the $1.4B increase in aid agreed upon in the budget will be tied directly to state approval of locally negotiated teacher evaluation plans. Districts will have until mid-November to have their plans approved.

From Capital New York:

According to budget language that has not yet been finalized, the department would craft—subject to approval of the Board of Regents—regulations outlining a new evaluation system by June 30, deputy senior education commissioner Ken Wagner told Capital on Monday.

Some aspects of the rating system would be optional, so they would require negotiations between school districts, teachers and principals’ unions.

This model of withholding aid until an evaluation plan is approved was first introduced by Gov. Cuomo in 2013. Now, it seems districts will have to renegotiate their APPR plans.

“If we rewind back to the first year of implementation, districts had to put these plans in place under threat of losing a state aid increase,” New York State School Boards Association spokesman David Albert told Capital New York. “Why would we do the same thing again? Why not give districts the time they need so they can take the time to negotiate agreements that make sense?”

Details began to emerge last night on the new teacher evaluation system. The system will have two components: student test results and observation. From Jessica Bakeman:

There will be two required observations, from a teacher’s principal or administrator and an “independent” evaluator, who could be a principal, administrator or “highly effective” teacher from another school or district. As Cuomo originally proposed, a college professor or retired educator could also serve as the independent evaluator. A peer observation will be optional…Student growth on state-administered, Common Core-aligned English and math exams in third through eighth grades and Regents exams in high school will be required components for the evaluation system…Districts and local unions may choose to include an additional test, which would be designated by the State Education Department.

According to the most recent budget information, the State Education Department will be tasked with determining the percentage of evaluations tied to test scores.

“We’re giving SED the ability to do what the intent is for them to do,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Sunday night. “The state education department should be the chief arbiters of education policy in the state, and we’re allowing them to do what their mission is.”

The bills containing school aid and teacher evaluation have not been introduced or finalized as of Tuesday morning.

On Monday, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) president Karen Magee called for a mass opt out of state testing, citing that test-based evaluation is not a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness.

“I’m a parent,” Magee said. “My child is in 11th grade at this point in time. Had he been a third to eighth grader, he would not be taking the test. The tests are not valid indicators. The American Statistical Association has said there is no direct link to tie these tests to student performance or teacher evaluation. Let’s look at tests that are diagnostic in nature, that actually inform practice in the classroom, that actually work to serve students who are directly sitting in front of the teacher for the year as opposed to what we have in place right now.”

The “opt-out” movement has increasingly gained traction. According to the NYSSBA, during the 2014 testing cycle, approximately 60,000 New York students opted out of the tests, compared with 10,000 a year earlier.

NYSUT officials released a fact sheet on opting out Monday morning, though this shouldn’t come as a surprise as they have stated in the past that they support a parent’s right to opt his/her child out of the state exams.


Budget deal reached, schools to see increase in aid

Update 11:04 a.m. According to Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi on Capital Press Room, 50% or $550M of the Gap Elimination Reduction will be restored.

Update 8:56 a.m. School aid runs should be released today, according to NYSUT. (H/T Susan Arbetter @sarbetter)

Update 8:45 a.m. Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on a framework for the state budget Sunday night that if approved, would see at least a $1.4B boost in aid to school districts and give the state education department control over teacher evaluation reform.

This increase in aid is higher than the $1.1B proposed by Cuomo in January. According to Capital New York, lawmakers said they were still working out exactly how school aid would be distributed. More details are expected to be released Monday.

The role of SED in relation to developing new teacher evaluations strays from what was reported late last week where lawmakers were reportedly discussing having the Board of Regents assume responsibility over evaluation reform.

From Capital New York on the role of SED handling evaluation reform:

A Cuomo administration source said the budget would specifically charge the education commissioner with the task, not the board. There is currently a vacancy in that role, since commissioner John King departed last year to take a job with the federal government…The department would have to flesh out the details of the new system by June. School districts would need to finalize any locally negotiated aspects of their ratings system and submit their plans for state approval by November.

“We’re giving SED the ability to do what the intent is for them to do,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told Capital New York. “The state education department should be the chief arbiters of education policy in the state, and we’re allowing them to do what their mission is.”

The budget will reportedly also include a program for state takeover of under-performing schools. From Capital New York:

Under the agreement, struggling schools will submit a plan to the state education department showing how they will improve, according to a Cuomo administration source.

Pending approval, the schools that have been yielding poor outcomes for 10 years or more will be allowed one year to show “demonstrable progress” before being subject to a state takeover. If there is no “demonstrable progress,” the school will go into receivership. Schools that have been struggling for at least three years will have two years to improve.


“After decades of leading the nation in education spending but lagging in results, New York will set an example for all other states with a complete overhaul of the entrenched education bureaucracy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “These reforms – accompanied by an unprecedented financial investment – will put students first by bringing accountability to the classroom, recruiting and rewarding our best teachers, further reducing over-testing, and finally confronting our chronically failing schools.”

There are conflicting reports over the status of teacher tenure. While Cuomo’s original proposal called for five consecutive “effective” ratings, Heastie said tenure will change from three years experience to four and evaluations will play a part in the tenure decision.

According to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which so many education advocates have fought to have removed, will be dramatically reduced.

More details on the budget are expected to be released Monday.

NYSUT to rally at the Capitol today

With the state budget deadline of April 1 looming, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) will be gathering at the Capitol on Thursday to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform proposals.

Since Cuomo released his budget proposal in late January calling for significant changes to the teacher evaluation process, NYSUT has been on the offensive, launching numerous ad and social media campaigns.

On Wednesday, NYSUT president Karen Magee said the union would support a stakeholders panel that would vet Cuomo’s proposed changes to the teacher evaluation system. The State Assembly majority conference is currently debating establishing such a panel.

From Capitol Confidential:

“We’d be in favor of a panel … of stakeholders,” Magee said, adding that the panel would have to have no power over aid or the authority to put any changes to the evaluation system into effect.

Cuomo’s proposed plan that would change the evaluation process for teachers so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. Teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective. A teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

NYSUT will also be protesting Cuomo’s withholding of state aid from schools until a budget deal is reached and high-stakes testing. Cuomo has tied $1.1 billion in education funding to the passage of his proposed reforms.

On Wednesday, Republican senators spoke out against Cuomo’s decision to withhold aid.

From the Buffalo News:

Sen. John J. Flanagan, R-East Northport, influential chairman of the Senate Education Committee, dismissed talk Wednesday that a decision on school aid will be delayed until June.

“I don’t envision any circumstance where we’d leave here without a school aid run and school aid numbers,” he said.

The NYSUT rally will be held at 4 p.m., Thursday on the “Million Dollar Staircase.”


Pearson monitoring student’s social media accounts during PARCC testing

According to the superintendent of the Watchung Hills Regional High School District in New Jersey, Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has been monitoring student’s social media accounts for possible leaks about PARCC test questions.

Click here to read more.

POV: “Enough is enough!”

Points_viewToday’s “Point of View” comes to us from Jessica Melchior, a third grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in the Schalmont Central School District. It is the transcript of her remarks given at the “Save Our Schools” advocacy event that took place at South Colonie High School on February 26, 2015.

I am not against Common Core.  I am not against APPR.  I am not against assessments.  These reforms can inform teaching in a professional learning community to meet the needs of all learners.  As a veteran, national board certified teacher I have seen these ideas evolve and grow.  I see their ability to reform education, not by tearing it down but by fostering it.

However, the governor has hijacked these ideas, these crucial aspects of the educational community. On our quest to race from here to there, to compete with other countries, to vilify the people who spend their days in service of others; we have failed to reap the rewards of these ideas.  We have digressed into partisan bickering about common core, turned APPR into a witch hunt and lost sight of the real purpose of assessment in a professional learning community.  As the self-proclaimed lobbyist for the students, Governor Cuomo has missed the mark.  The governor consistently fails to recognize what is truly important in our classrooms… and in our lives.

Last spring I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was on March 27th, only a couple of weeks before my 3rd Graders would be taking their first New York State assessment. I went from one day focusing on my students to the next wondering whether I would ever get to return to a classroom again.  I had taught and they had practiced basic test taking strategies, I had helped them see themselves as readers, modeled how to write extended responses and we had shared a variety of mathematical strategies to solve problems. I used yoga and visualization to help students cope with test anxiety.  But in the end, I couldn’t be there for them when they faced a test that was leaps and bounds more challenging than any practice they had taken or any experience they had ever had in a classroom.  I wasn’t there for them when they reached frustration points within the first few minutes of the test or when they put their heads down to cry because there was no way they could finish in time.

Why would we put our students through these assessments?  In the past I believe the state tests have improved education by driving us to increase rigor in our curriculum and standards.  I’ve taught valuable strategies for test taking and for coping with stress.   We celebrate successes and learn from mistakes.  And it makes sense to link the assessments with Common Core.  But that is not the full picture; these assessments represent a rigor that is above even our increased grade level common core standards.  The assessments are built upon standards that begin in Pre-K and increase in complexity.  However, students had to start with whatever grade they were in when the new tests were implemented. Meanwhile, the test-maker, Pearson, is being left unchecked; the Governor has re-negged on promises to parents and teachers; and teachers have become scapegoats for poor results.  The Governor proposes an equation that makes no mathematical sense; requiring that test scores account for 50% of a teacher’s performance grade but then adding the caveat that poor test scores automatically means a rating of “ineffective”.  Cuomo and Commissioner King have brought nothing but stress and heartache to the educational community, with the exception of Pearson executives and privatized schools.  Commissioner King decreed that there should be no “trick questions” yet he allowed for multiple choice questions with 16 lines of text for students to read.  They use literature by authors like Daniel Pinkwater which were never intended for multiple choice questions or essays.  They selected texts deliberately above students’ grade levels for a test that is supposed to measure grade level achievement. They wrote multiple step problems to assess a single math standard even though solving the problem would require understanding of several standards.  They graded teachers, principals and schools based on tests and cut scores that can change on a political or corporate whim.  The scores of these assessments are not even shared with teachers until the following year, and even then the data we receive is so limited that it cannot even be used to adjust instruction. This process is anything but transparent!

I am not only a teacher, but also a parent of two boys; a 3rd Grader and a Kindergartner.  My 3rd Grader uses Common Core Math Strategies naturally and is an avid reader but I wonder what he will do when the questions become too confusing and the texts become too challenging.  Will we be testing his true ability or how much of this he will put up with before he shuts down?  I wonder how many tests my Kindergartner will take before he gets to 3rd Grade.   If the purpose of all these SLOs and state tests are truly to inform his teacher’s instruction or to individualize his needs; that is fine by me.  If the purpose is to assess his teachers, at his expense, without any benefit to his learning than it has no place in the classroom or our educational system.  All kids need to learn, but these tests are becoming a distraction.

When I returned to my classroom after 10 months of doctor appointments, second opinions, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments I faced a new class of 3rd Graders.  They had built a classroom community without me and I needed to find my place in it.  No amount of common core, APPR or state tests could get in our way.  We needed to work together.  I would love to invite Governor Cuomo and our legislators into my classroom to see the community we have made and to see real learning taking place.  You won’t see my students filling in bubbles on a scantron.  You will see authentic tasks that imbed learning; you will see teachable moments and you will see cooperative learning.

I am a human being.  Our children are humans.  We all deserve better than this.  Let’s use assessment how it was meant to be used; as a formative or summative tool in a professional learning community.  Let’s judge teachers on things that matter.  Let’s not take common core out of context for a political agenda. Let’s not forget, Governor, teachers are human beings and their students are too.  Enough is enough!

Hundreds pack Colonie High for ‘Save Our Schools’ advocacy event


Watervliet City Schools superintendent Dr. Lori Caplan address local legislators.

Stakeholders from school districts around the Capital Region converged Thursday night at Colonie Central High School to continue an annual call to action on the fiscal crisis facing public schools.

Local legislators from around the region were in attendance and given prime seating — on the stage — providing them the opportunity to hear first-hand from area educators, students, parents and board members how a lack of funding, unfair assessments and performance evaluations are crippling public education.

According to organizers, the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which takes money away from schools to help balance the state budget, has cost Capital Region schools approximately $445 million in promised state aid since its inception. This loss in aid has forced many districts to lay off teachers and staff, and cut educational program offerings to students.

“Governor Cuomo said that teachers wouldn’t be impacted. Tell that to the 30,000 teachers that have been let go,” Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District teacher Laura Bellinger said.

District leaders directed their frustration at the inequitable distribution of aid and pleaded with local legislators to correct the problem.

“I’m not asking for someone else’s piece of the pie,” Watervliet City Schools superintendent Lori Caplan said. “I just want fair and equitable distribution.”

“We have to change the funding formula and make it fair to all districts,” Assemblyman James Tedisco said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all system.”

The teachers who spoke urged the legislators to use a common sense approach when it comes to student assessments and teacher evaluations.

The governor’s budget proposal outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. Teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We all deserve better than this,” Schalmont teacher Jessica Melchior said. “Let’s use assessment how it was meant to be used — as a formative or summative tool in a professional learning community. Let’s judge teachers on things that matter.  Let’s not take Common Core out of context for a political agenda.”

Students in attendance also spoke out on testing, questioning the importance of pre-tests, which are given before any subject matter is taught in a given area, to judge how much a student knows.

“It’s a rare case that a student takes the pre-test seriously,” Schalmont student Bill Schmidt said. “We know the pre-test doesn’t factor into our grade. We know that we don’t know anything about chemistry, so we fill in all the A bubbles on our scantron. Basically, we get a day to make sure we color within the lines of the bubble marked ‘A.'”  

The legislators in attendance urged those in attendance to stay vocal and keep the pressure on the governor in order to get the change they want.

“Keep your voices strong,” Assemblyman John McDonald said. “Stay strong. We’re going to get this done.”

Siena poll: More parental involvement, more time for tenure, voters side with teachers over Cuomo

A Siena poll released Tuesday morning shows that voters think that lack of parental involvement is the main reason why not enough high school students graduate college or are career ready.

The poll also indicates that 48 percent of voters generally side with the teachers’ union on educational issues, while 36 percent side with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A plurality, 37 percent, says that not enough parental involvement is the single biggest reason that not enough high schoolers graduate college or career ready, followed by 18 percent who say it’s insufficient education funding, 17 percent point to the effects of poverty, 12 percent say ineffective state education oversight, and only 10 percent blame the quality of New York’s teachers. By an overwhelming 62-29 percent, voters say teachers should be eligible for tenure after five years, as Cuomo has proposed, rather than the current three years.

“A plurality of voters from every party and region says the level of parental involvement is the single largest problem facing schools today, more so than education funding, poverty, oversight, or teacher quality,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said. “Downstate suburban and upstate voters think their local public schools do at least a good job of preparing students, however, New York City voters disagree more than two-to-one. A majority of all voters, including two-thirds from New York City, says that schools statewide are doing only a fair or poor job of preparing students.

“In the ongoing war of words between Cuomo and the teachers’ unions over a broad array of education issues, a plurality of voters sides with the unions, including a majority of Democrats and upstaters and a plurality of Republicans and downstate suburbanites. Independents and New York City voters are closely divided. Men and voters in non-union households are also closely divided, while women and voters in union households more strongly side with the teachers’ unions,” Greenberg said.

New NYSUT ad calls Cuomo’s priorities ‘wrong’

NYSUT has taken to the airwaves, producing a new commercial that calls Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education priorities “wrong” and asks that he visit a classroom to learn what all kids need to get a great education.

Since the Governor released his budget proposal on Jan. 21 calling for significant changes to the teacher evaluation process, NYSUT has been on the offensive, launching new ad and social media campaigns. In a recent video address to NYSUT members, president Karen Magee said that Gov. Cuomo has declared war on the teaching profession.

“Instead of standing with educators, parents and community, the Governor has chosen to side with his billionaire friends, and with those who seek to demonize public education and service and seek to vilify and scapegoat teachers,” Magee said.

Cuomo has called for changes to how districts evaluate teachers and principals. Under the existing process, evaluation scores consist of essentially three components: classroom observations, growth on state test scores and locally-selected learning targets, and additional measures of student achievement. Scores on these components result in a rating of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

“They’re baloney,” Cuomo said of the current evaluations. “How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations.”

In his budget proposal, the Governor outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. While many other details of this plan are still unknown, Gov. Cuomo did say that the elements of the scoring system for teacher observations would be set in state law, rather than locally negotiated as they are now.

Cuomo also said that teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We will stop local score inflation, which has resulted in virtually all teachers being rated effective by setting,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s plan, a teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

“The state’s systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably – while giving all teachers the tools and support they need – is the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug,” Magee said following the Governor’s budget address.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

DiNapoli: 90 school districts in fiscal stress

Ninety public school districts statewide are fiscally stressed, accounting for 13 percent of the 672 reviewed, according to New York state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

This is the second year DiNapoli’s office has assessed and scored the financial stability of school districts. Last year, 87 districts were listed in fiscal stress.

“School districts are the hearts of many of our communities, but they face fiscal pressures that are unlikely to change any time soon,” DiNapoli said. “Although the increases in fiscal stress are relatively minor, the same problems persist, including increased deficits and dwindling fund balances. I urge school officials, especially those overseeing districts with deteriorating fiscal health, to use these scores as an impetus for more deliberate and careful long-term budget planning.”

10 school districts are listed in “significant stress”. They include Wyandanch Union Free School District (Suffolk County); Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District (Niagara); East Ramapo Central School District (Rockland); Lawrence Union Free School District (Nassau); Watervliet City School District (Albany); Copiague Union Free School District (Suffolk); Lewiston-Porter Central School District (Niagara); West Seneca Central School District (Erie); Hempstead Union Free School District (Nassau); and the Peekskill City School District (Westchester).

According to language in Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget bill, if the Legislature does not enact the education reforms the Governor outlined in his budget address last week, districts will not receive any aid greater than their 2014-15 amount for each of the next two years.

Complicating matters for districts, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda. The aid runs are usually released within hours of the Governor’s budget presentation.

Click here to read the complete report and a list of school district fiscal stress scores.

NYSECB letter to Cuomo: School districts should not be held hostage

The New York State Educational Conference Board, comprised of the seven leading educational organizations across the state, has penned a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanding that state aid runs be released to school districts immediately.

“In our collective memory, it is unprecedented for the state to withhold the release of executive budget aid runs.
These aid runs are not simply a state budget “tradition,” they are necessary and indeed critical to the local
budget development process for hundreds of school districts across the state.”

Last week, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda. The aid runs are usually released within hours of the Governor’s budget presentation.

Click here to read the entire letter [PDF]